Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Top Ten Films of 2009

Of course, this year, the Oscars themselves made a Top Ten list, as this year, there were 10 Best Picture nominees instead of the usual five (Thank you Batman).

Since the Oscars usually only name five best picture nominees, and therefore my list doubles that amount, this year I might go ahead and give you a Top Twenty.

If they can double their faves, I suppose that I can also.

If I wrote a review for the film, it is linked through the title!

So, here you go...


20.  The Hurt Locker

This movie won best picture, but it finds itself on my list at number 20.

Sure, I enjoyed it, and Jeremy Renner is masterful, but I don't really think it was worthy of being named Best Picture, and probably didn't deserve to be nominated.  For the most part, the movie is amazing, and everything you would want out of a best picture winner, but there is an entire section of the film that bothers me.  Renner's character goes off of the base to avenge the death of a local kid he believes that he knew.  It turns the film into something different, something that this movie wasn't really about; it almost completely derails the feel that the film had spent so long building up.  I suppose it was meant to give you a little more insight into Renner's character, but it actually made me like him less.  Everything else he does in the film makes me sympathize with him in the way that the movie wanted me too, but that portion did just the opposite.  It didn't fit, and moved this film all the way down to number 20 on my list.

So, hopefully that'll teach 'em.

19. District 9

Another movie that I really did enjoy, but that didn't quite win me totally over as it wasn't quite sure what type of film that it wanted to be.

It starts out as a very smart sci-fi film that has some interesting things to say on how we treat each other, and it becomes an exciting shoot-em-up action flick.  The mock-umentary feel at the beginning of the film and the more basic action flick in the second half don't really fit together in my opinion, and detracts from what is otherwise a very good film.  Seeing as this was the first film from the director, perhaps some of the pacing issues and uneven feel of the film can be forgiven.  However, since there is another first time director on this very list much, much higher, we can't cut Mr.Blomkamp too much slack.  Instead, he will have to be satisfied with number 19 on my Top 20.

18. The Blind Side

Without question a great feel good story.  Even the freaking previews get me choked up.  As did the first time that I heard Michael Oher's story as he was being drafted. The film does a great job telling that story, and as much as I am not a huge fan of Sandra Bullock, she is fantastic as the woman who went out of her way for a young man who really needed someone to believe in him.

17. The Hangover

An outstanding comedy that doesn't pull any punches.  Bradley Cooper is amazing, but then, I've known that from way back.  I loved him as Will Tippen on Alias.  Zach Galifianakis steals every scene that he is in.  This film is highly quotable, which is part of what makes a great comedy.  You can't help but laugh again when you are talking with your friends about it long after the movie has ended.

16. (500) Days of Summer

I've had a bit of a thing for Zooey Deschanel for quite some time.  She really blew me away in the recent Sci-Fi channel miniseries Tin-Man, an update of The Wizard of Oz.  So it is no surprise that she is so easy to fall in love with in this movie.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great as well in this unconventional love story told out of order after it has already ended.

15. Julie & Julia

Any movie that is about a person who found fame blogging already has a head start in winning me over.  The strange story of a woman who cooked her way through Julia Child's cookbook coupled with the story of how the cookbook came to be published is a fun and intriguing way to intertwine two stories that aren't as unconnected as they might at first seem.  Amy Adams is clearly an actress to keep an eye on as she continues to perform very well in interesting roles, and, of course, Meryl Streep is, as always, amazing.

14. Fantastic Mr. Fox

I might not have thought to combine the story telling visuals of Wes Anderson with the dark yet whimsical tales of children's author Roald Dahl, but after seeing this movie, let me assure you, they fit together perfectly.  The film is without question a Wes Anderson film, and as true to his sensibilities as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but it is also quite true to Roald Dahl, and as true to his sensibilities as any reading you have ever done of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  It is a perfect marriage.  Also the music is unbelievable.  It is worth seeing the movie for the soundtrack alone!

13. Fanboys

There was actually quite a while where I thought that I might have to put this movie first on any best of list that I did.  I absolutely loved it and felt that it was made with me in mind.  It is a story that is unabashed in its love for Star Wars, uncompromising in its comedy, and unashamedly emotional as well.  I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say that if you grew up loving the original Star Wars films, you will love this movie too.

12. A Serious Man

A bit different from the usual Coen Brother fare (if you can call anything that these eclectic filmmakers do usual).  A Serious Man is the Coen Brothers modern day take on the book of Job and the theology contained therein.  This is not a happy movie, but then, life itself is often not so happy go lucky either, and any contemplation on the injustices of being unfairly targeted to the point to where it seems even God must be against you despite your assurances that you have always been a faithful (or serious in Jewish parlance) man is worth digesting.  When it is contemplated by Joel and Ethan Coen, you quite simply can't go wrong.

11.  Funny People

Another film that spent quite a lot of time in my top spot, Judd Apatow abandoned his usual comedy for a dramatic piece about life and the lengths we go to to avoid facing its realities.  I think that had this film been marketed for the drama that it was instead of the comedic piece that it was advertised as, it would have gotten some series Oscar buzz.  Adam Sandler gives what I believe is his absolutely best performance.  Seth Rogen also impressed me greatly with his performance.  It is a sign of what a great year 2009 has been for film that a movie that spent a long time as my number one movie of the year ends it at number 11.

10. Zombieland

Stylistically, this movie is perfect.  Told from the perspective of the least likely Zombie apocalypse survivor ever, Zombieland succeeds as a hilarious comedy as well as a fun zombie romp (much like Shawn of the Dead, I wonder what it is that makes Zombie movies work so well in satirical films?).  Woody Harrelson reminds me why I like him so much, as he steals every second of the movie that he is in.  Abigail Breslin proves that she will have a career beyond just being that cute little girl from Little Miss Sunshine, and Emma Stone joins Amy Adams as actresses to keep a serious eye on.  Both character driven and zombie-filled, Zombieland was way better than it probably had any right to be.  It also has the best comedic cameo of all time.

9. Sherlock Holmes

Though Guy Ritchie has been slacking some from the promise that he showed early with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he does an excellent job bringing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's incredible creation to life on the big screen.  The story feels like a Sherlock Holmes story, Robert Downey Jr. continues his unbelievable hot streak of bringing iconic characters to life, and Ritchie 's somewhat frenetic pace is kept enough in check to fit the film perfectly.  I, for one, can't wait for the next installment from Baker's Street.

8. Up

A movie that I have seen numerous times, and that I love more each and every time that I watch it.  The almost silent-film-esque opening is worth the price of admission by itself.  A story that is so incredibly emotional and yet at the same time filled with such a child-like sense of wonder, it is amazing to me sometimes when most movies are just cookie cutter retellings of old stories that something so original can still be made.  It helps when you are PIXAR and have never made a bad movie.  You get a little bit more leeway to be original when you can't do any wrong.  That trend certainly didn't stop here.

7. Star Trek

A movie that filled me with trepidation all the way up until the moment that I saw it.  Other than a few moments that were a little more cheesy than I would have liked (such as Kirk's puffed up hands), this movie was completely true to Star Trek.  It doesn't lesson my desire for a new Star Trek series on TV following the TNG, DS9, Voyager timeline, but I also can't wait for the next film in this universe with this cast.  I'm sold and ready to Boldly Go once again.

6. Watchmen

While many considered the graphic novel to be unfilmable, Zach Snyder actually did an amazing job in capturing everything that the comic was about in a way that applies to our more modern sensibilities and in relation to the current craze in making comic book movies.  It so easily could have gone wrong in so many ways, and yet I have a love for the film that might outstrip the love that I have for the graphic novel on which it was based.  Rarely can you even begin to think that the movie is better than the book, but this film certainly has a  case to make, although you can't take away anything from the book since each and every scene is lovingly recreated from the template that is Alan Moore's masterpiece.

5. Coraline

Each year, I notice some trend in the really great movies of the year, and this year it might have to be adaptations.  Literary works are notoriously hard to translate well to the screen, and yet so many have been successfully made this year.  Dahl's work is put perfectly to screen by Wes Anderson, Doyle's troubled genius gets a fantastic reboot thanks to Downey and Ritchie, Alan Moore's "unfilmable" book becomes a breathtaking movie thanks to Zach Snyder, and now, Neil Gaiman's work is once again brought to spectacular life (the last time was two years ago with the very underrated Stardust), this time by Henry Selick and the stop motion animation that he perfected with A Nightmare Before Christmas.  Coraline is a hauntingly beautiful story that is full of thrills, chills, and just the right amount of emotion.

4. Where the Wild Things Are

Continuing the amazing adaptation theme, a short picture book is an unlikely source to turn into a fully engaging feature film, and yet Spike Jonze (director of Being John Malcovich) and Dave Eggers (best known for his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) do just that with this film.  The performances are unbelievable, the Wild Things are brought to perfect life, and the work of Max Records as Max is unbelievable.  It is literally one of the best acting performances that I've ever seen.  The movie itself is not what I would call a kid's movie, but rather a movie that is exactly about what it is to be a kid, and that can be a scary thing.  But also hauntingly beautiful when it is survived.

3. The Road

I haven't read the Cormac McCarthy novel that the movie is based on, but the movie blew me away.  Incredible cinematography that really captures the mood right off the bat, performances that are so very raw and intense, and a story that cuts right to the bone, this movie hits on every cylinder.  It certainly isn't a "feel good" film, but it definitely does a perfect job in capturing the love between a father and a son, and giving a realistic portrayal to a world that has "moved on" as Stephen King might say.

2. Moon

Like District 9, this is a sci-fi feature film from a first time director, yet Duncan Jones doesn't make any mistakes in his tale about loneliness and humanity.  Set on a base on the moon in the near future manned for three months by one individual and a robotic assistant, the film doesn't get old or tiresome at all, and instead is perfectly paced and completely gripping.  This is in large part due to the amazing skill of Sam Rockwell as Sam, the laborer finishing up his stay at the moon base.  His performance is without question the finest of the year, and one of the best acting jobs I've ever seen.  Duncan Jones's superb film also places him instantly in amongst the young directors whose films I will see immediately upon release, joining Alfonso Cuaron, David Fincher, Darron Aronofsky, and Christopher Nolan.

And the number one film....

1. Avatar

James Cameron's incredibly imaginative and immersive world changed film forever.  It proves that with modern cinema is now capable of anything.  While some are critical of the somewhat unoriginal story, the imagination of everything else in the film makes up for any stale story elements.  And personally I didn't see the story as stale, I saw the story as a classic tale that added to the realism of what easily could have been an unrealistic world but instead thanks to the imagination and technology of James Cameron was utterly believable and that made Pandora a place that I almost felt like I could step through the screen to join.  Movies will never be the same again, and that is what cinema is all about.

Until Next Time, this was a fantastic year for cinema, and if the Oscars are going to force ten best picture nominees on us, the least that Hollywood can do is make sure that there are enough good films to fill them out with enough left over for discussion!

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